The framerate of The Hobbit, and the reactions of audiences thereof

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When Peter Jackson filmed The Hobbit, he made the unusual decision to use a higher framerate than the regulation 24 frames-per-second. He filmed in 48 frames-per-second, and offered the audience two showings of the film; one in 48 FPS, and another in the standard 24 FPS. I saw The Hobbit in the cinema in 2012, and having the opinion that 48 FPS was not worth paying for, saw the default option in 2D. This was apparently wise. Many complained about the look of the film in 48 FPS; complaints that the framerate looked odd, that it detracted from the action onscreen and that it looked too detailed (and therefore made it more obvious what was real and what was not) dogged the 48 FPS showings, and still do in 2016.

A reason for this backlash, possibly, is the familiarity of the audience with 24 FPS movement in films; 24 frames is just above the point where the human brain ceases to see individual images, so there is considerable motion blur. One reviewer, who called the 48 FPS version “the most disappointing cinematic experience in recent memory” (and highly praised the 24 FPS showing), argues that the blur associated with a relatively low framerate adds to the “cinematic experience” expected by most viewers (1). It is also important to notice that the “soap opera effect”, a well known mark of low quality, is partly a result of high framerate footage. This will naturally create a negative impression of high framerate imagery in the minds of an audience.

The higher framerate is also, necessarily, more detailed. This accounts for the complaints that the film is too detailed for it’s own good. The effects in cinema rely on a standard framerate of 24 frames-per-second, because that is all they would ever be exposed to under normal conditions. This may not even be a conscious decision on the part of the effects workshop, but all makeup, lighting and practical effects were developed for and designed for a slower framerate, which is less sensitive to the human eye and requires effects to ‘correct’ what we see. When put in front of a 48 FPS camera, the lack of detail and exaggerated features have nowhere to hide, resulting in a movie that, as said by Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, “looks so hyper-real you see everything that’s fake about it”.

48 FPS is not dead. Andy Serkis, a well respected actor who was in all six Lord of the Rings related films, has announced an intent to make an adaption of George Orwell’s Animal Farm in 48 FPS, and James Cameron has announced similar plans for the Avatar sequels. The reception of The Hobbit, though, begs the question: is this really a good idea?

 

(1): http://gizmodo.com/5969817/the-hobbit-an-unexpected-masterclass-in-why-48-fps-fails

 

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